The Importance of Taking Breaks

Taking a break

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to observe your pet’s mastery of taking a break you’ve probably noticed that they’re really good at it. They expertly find the best spot, depending on the time of day, and they always know how to work it (our Labrador Ellie – case in point). On the flip side, when it’s time to chase that stick, they’re invariably supercharged and ready to rock.

That aside for a minute, what’s concerning is the persistent high rates of burnout in Australia. Whilst the figures can vary, the overwhelming theme continues to point to the fact that burnout is a major issue that is negatively effecting people.

A HRD article published last year sited the ELMO Employee Sentiment Index where it was found that 46% of Australian employees admitted that they were feeling burnt out. The climbing burnout figures were attributed to the increased workloads placed on Australian employees, as 24% said they had taken more responsibilities in their jobs, and 32% feel overwhelmed about the amount of work they need to carry out.

If we wanted to, we could go on all day about the numerous factors that can contribute to people experiencing burnout. Rather, from our experience, we feel it’s the inability to take healthy breaks during the workday that mainly contributes to people feeling fatigued and ultimately burnt out.

This can easily be fixed if we understand what stops us taking breaks, why it helps to take breaks, and how to habitualise taking breaks.

What stops us taking breaks?

We all have our reasons for prioritising work over taking breaks to recover and recharge during our workday. However, there are some common reasons why people tend to skip breaks, even though they know many of the benefits. This may include:

  1. Workload and Deadlines: we often skip breaks because we feel overwhelmed by our workload or tight deadlines. Ironically, the fear of not completing tasks on time can lead us to believe that taking a break would be counterproductive.

  2. Perceived Expectations: we have a belief that our managers or colleagues expect us to constantly be productive. This perceived pressure to maintain a high level of output can discourage us from taking breaks, as we fear this may be viewed as slacking off.

  3. Workplace Culture: for what ever reason, some workplaces have a prevalent culture that condones continuous work. Taking breaks may be frowned upon or seen as a sign of individuals not being dedicated enough. This cultural aspect can unfortunately deter employees from stepping away from their tasks or workspace.

  4. Personal Work Habits: if we have a high level of conscientiousness we can have a tendency to immerse ourselves in our work and forget to take breaks. This could be due to a strong work ethic, a desire for perfection, or the feeling that we are at our most productive when we’re constantly on.

  5. Lack of Awareness: some people may genuinely be unaware of the performance and health benefits of taking breaks. They might not realise that breaks can actually enhance their focus, creativity, and overall productivity.

Why it helps to take breaks!

Whether you may just need a reminder, or you need a refresher on the benefits of taking a break, here’s some compelling reasons why we should take breaks during our workday, and encourage others to do the same.

  1. Enhanced Productivity and Focus: if strategically incorporated into our workday, breaks help you to maintain cognitive function and reduce fatigue. After a period of focused work, our levels of attention and concentration start to wane. Taking short breaks allows your brain to rest and recharge, leading to improved focus and higher productivity when you return to tasks.

  2. Improved Creativity, Problem-Solving, and Decision-Making: stepping away from your workspace or a task (walking in nature) promotes creativity, improved problem-solving and decision-making, by allowing your mind to access new insights and ideas. Regular breaks prevent decision fatigue as it gives your brain a chance to replenish its cognitive resources.

  3. Reduced Stress, Fatigue, and Burnout: taking breaks provides an opportunity to tune-out, reduce stress levels, and recharge both mentally and physically, which ultimately improves your overall well-being and performance. By stepping away from work-related demands ultimately supports you to enjoy better work-life satisfaction levels.

  4. Physical Health Benefits: taking breaks allows you to stretch, move around, and alleviate strain on your muscles, joints, and eyes, reducing the risk of health issues associated with prolonged periods of focussed work.

  5. Collaboration and Communication: breaks can facilitate informal interactions with colleagues, teamwork, and productive communication. Casual conversations during breaks can lead to sharing ideas, problem-solving discussions, and building stronger professional relationships.

  6. Learning and Skill Development: breaks can be used to engage in learning activities or skill development. Taking short breaks to read, watch educational videos, or practice a new skill can lead to continuous learning and personal growth.

  7. Long-Term Sustainability: over time, consistently taking breaks can contribute to your overall longevity in the workforce. Promoting sustainable work practices like this will greatly improve employee engagement, output, and retention.

How to habitualise taking breaks

There’s no shortage of freely available literature on forming and maintaining habits, and taking breaks at work requires a combination of intention, planning, and consistency. Here are some tailormade strategies to help you develop the habit of taking regular breaks:

  1. Set Reminders and Time Block: use an App (if it suits you), alarms, notifications, or calendar events (time-blocking) to remind yourself to take breaks at specific intervals. Set these reminders to repeat daily, and feel free to gradually adjust the intervals to find what schedule of breaks works best for you. It’s critical you treat break-times as non-negotiable appointments with yourself, just like you would with work tasks or meetings and colleagues respect this.

  2. Plan Activities and Be Accountable: Pre-plan how you’ll spend your break time. Whether it’s stretching, walking, reading a book, or listening to music, having a specific activity in mind can make breaks more enjoyable and purposeful. By sharing your goal of taking regular breaks, with a colleague or friend, will make you more likely to stick to it.

  3. Create the Environment and Practice Mindfulness: Designate appropriate places/spaces where you can really take a break. Whether it’s a cozy corner or an outdoor area, having a pleasant environment makes breaks more appealing and you more motivated to take them. If it’s your thing, incorporate mindfulness exercises (people watching, breathing, meditation, walking, etc) into your break routine as this will help you fully disconnect from work-tasks, reduce stress, and benefit from this recovery time.

  4. Start Small: if you’re not used to taking regular breaks, start with short and manageable break periods. Gradually increase the duration and frequency of your breaks as you feel the benefits and the habit becomes more ingrained.

  5. Reflect, Adjust, and Track Progress: regularly evaluate how well you’re incorporating work-breaks, reflect on the impact they have on your productivity and well-being. Finally, identify any challenges you encounter, celebrate your successes, and continuously refine your approach.

  6. Educate Yourself: learn about other habit formation techniques (Pomodoro Technique) and the science behind, and third party stories of, the benefits of taking breaks. Understanding the positive impacts of breaks will motivate you to do it, and advocate for it in your workplace.

Remember, like any habit, building in breaks during your workday will take time and patience. Stick at it and over time, this healthy practice will significantly improve your overall work experience and quality of life.

Designing a Healthier Workplace

Ready to find out how to nurture your health and the way your organisation supports the wellbeing and performance of it’s people. Our mission is to show people how to enjoy greater work-life satisfaction by expertly supporting them to become mentally fit. For success, his invariably means helping them to positively navigate their own version of this.

As you can appreciate, a person’s mental fitness, or wellbeing in a workplace, is hit and miss with generic, cookie-cutter, solutions. For well over a decade we’re found, as a specialised organisational psychologist company, that there are always a lot of moving parts for getting it right. Contact us for to explore a preventive approach to safeguarding your, or your workforce’s, mental fitness/wellbeing and performance.

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